Wizards (Istari)

The Order of Wizards (Q. Heren Istarion”) is a select group of Maïar drawn from the ranks of various Maïa peoples. Thematic spirits, the Wizards produced teachers and diplomats whose power was more generalized than that of their elemental brethren. Their numbers are unknown, although the five that came to Endor were all counted as Chiefs” among the Order. Saruman the White Messenger was the master of the Istari (S. Ithryn”), as well as being the foremost of those sent to contest Sauron’s might.

The Five Emissaries of the Valar

The five chiefs sent to Middle-earth were as varied as their background. Saruman — the first to be chosen and first to enter Endor — was a master craftsman and the leader of Aulë’s people. His position and skills mirrored those of the foe he was chosen to combat, for Sauron had served the Smith of the Valar in the same capacity before their entry into Ea. Saruman’s appointment was, in part, based on the fact that the White Wizard shared enough of the Dark Lord’s background to enable him to understand his enemy. In addition, Saruman’s cleverness was legend. It was hardly surprising that the Chief of the Order was chosen to lead an embassy compos¬ed of five of its members.

Within this hierarchy, Gandalf enjoyed a lesser status than Saruman, despite the fact that among the whole of the Maïar, the Grey Wizard was the wisest. Quiet and humble, sympathetic and forgiving, Gandalf’s nature hardly resembled that of the White Messenger. He was, instead, an able representative of Manwë’s peo¬ple, one who bore the backing of the King of the Valar. The Grey Messenger embodied the special qualities which endeared him to the Free Peoples among whom he worked, and enabled him to rise above the flaws of the flesh. When he commanded Gandalf to go to Middle-earth, Manwë understood a great deal about the trials the Istari would face.

Varda also perceived the Grey Wizard’s gifts. When Gandalf was selected as the third of the five emissaries, she stated to all present — most notably Saruman — that, although the Grey was chosen after two others (Saruman and Alatar), he would not go to Endor as the third.” In a sense then, Gandalf was accorded a somewhat independent position.

The fact that he was not paired with another Istar emphasized this role. Yavanna persuaded Saruman to take Radagast as a companion, despite the Valar’ initial plan to send only three of the Wise. Alatar took Pallando along as the fifth of their number. Gandalf, on the other hand, went alone. As Fate would have it, his destiny remained apart from those of his four brothers.

The Wizards’ Roots

Just as the character of Saruman and Gandalf differed, so too did the other three Istari who accompanied them. This diversity lent them strength. Alatar, the second Istar chosen, served Oromë, and he knew much of Endor’s eastern lands. He was also endowed with Oromë’s wild qualities, as well as his patron’s fondness for beasts. Pallando followed Mandos, and he was imbued with a seer’s gifts. Radagast the Brown served Yavanna, and cared little for speaking folk.

An overview of the five messengers’ associations follows:

Name Color Patron Vala Vala’s Association
Saruman White Aulë Non-living earth (crafts)
Gandalf Grey Manwë Air (sky, wisdom, empathy)
Alatar Blue (Lt)* Oromë Nature (Kelvar, forests)
Pallando Blue (Dk)* Mandos Earth (passing, souls)
Radagast Brown Yavanna Living earth (Olvar)

*Alatar and Pallando both wore sea-blue, although Pallando’s garb had a darker shade.

The Goal of the Wizards’ Embassy

The five Istari chosen for the embassy to Middle-earth had one goal: to combat Sauron and his Shadow. In assigning these Maïar to intervene, the Valar relied on their rarely-exercised right to correct imbalances in Endor that had been brought on by acts of those who were not indigenous to that continent. Middle-earth was, as the scheme dictated, the province of the Free Peoples. An Ainu such as the Dark Lord was an intrusion outside the conception prescribed by Eru.

Since Sauron was a Maïa, then, the Valar felt justified in contesting his might. Nonetheless, they instructed the Wizards to work as subtly as possible. The Istari’s goal was to unite and work with the Free Peoples, not to dominate them. It was an embassy aimed at counsel¬ing and providing support to Eru’s Children. The Valar required restraint and precluded the tools of force and fear. Power, they dic¬tated, could only be used in this context, and only as absolutely necessary. Overt enchantments and unbridled actions, no matter how well-meaning, were forbidden. Such a rule was in keeping with the Holy Ones’ belief that the Ainur should remain physically apart from the Middle Land.

A Note on Using Istari in Your Fantasy Game

Should you use an Istar character in your FRP game, keep in mind the original goals of their mission. The rules govern¬ing the Wizards embassy to Middle-earth serve as guidelines for an Istar, and even the fallen Istari pay some attention to the Valar edicts. A fallen Wizard will still act subtly, gathering power and utilizing force quietly — at least until he feels he is unassailable.

Also pay particular attention to Section 5.12, especially the comments on the development of a Maïa’s ties to an adopted form and the effects of a Maïa’s use of power outside his mandate. As noted, these effects are magnified (accentuated and accelerated) the further a Maïa travels away from Aman.

The Guises of the Emissaries

In order to accomplish their mission, the Wizards adopted forms consistent with their purpose. They sought to gain the trust of the Free Peoples by dealing with them as equals. Trust and persuasion were their methods of influence, not dictates or coercion. Despite the dangers tied to corporeal form, the Istari had to risk weakening their strength in order to succeed. The guises they chose, then, reflected their goals. As slightly worn old Men they projected a gen¬tle, unassuming image which had nothing to do with force or terror. Their forms promoted feelings of peace and a belief that they were both experienced and wise.

Since the Wizards were cloaked as Men, aging only very slowly, their form eventually created a problem. With each passing genera¬tion, it became apparent — at least among those they dealt with fre¬quently — that they were not mortal. Their bodies aged too slowly to be those of mortal Men. Thus, after a time, Men perceived the emissaries as Elves. Yet, even this view created questions, and the Wizards’ presence often confused and disturbed those they were sent to aid. In the end, just as it took a special spirit to restrain the use of Maïa power, it took gifted Men, Dwarves, and Elves to under-stand the help offered. 

A Note on Istari Experience Levels

The experience levels assigned to the Istari are based on their form and the setting in which they operated. To begin with, their quest involved use of only a modest amount power, for they had but one real foe and their prescribed methods involved only persuasion. In addition, Endor in the Third Age counted relatively few mighty lords when compared to the Middle-earth of the Elder Days. The level of strength they required reflected a balance based on this lessened level of power.

Of course, their role as Men reinforced this restraint, since Men were individually weaker in body and magic than the other Free Peoples. The Istari were intended to communicate with Middle-earth’s peoples, and their correspondingly low experience levels insured that they would not inadvertently cast fear into the hearts of their intended allies.

More importantly, the Wizards were not rooted” in Middle-earth like the Children of Eru. As Maïar, their power diminished the further they traveled from Aman and, unlike Sauron, they had no item of power which tied them to the Middle Land.

Accordingly, we have assigned each I star a dual experience level, the higher part of which is only one third the intrinsic level of his spirit. Their form and level in Aman, then, follows this pattern:

Istar Level in Endor* Level in Aman (Actual Level)
Alatar 40 (80) 240
Gandalf (Grey) 40 (80) 240
Gandalf (White) 50 (120) 360
Pallando 40 (60) 180
Radagast 40 (60) 180
Saruman 50 (100) 300

*For dual level notations, the first number indicates the Istar’s attack level. The second (parenthetical) number indicates the Istar’s base level, which is used for calculating all other capabilities (e.g., RRs).

(For more on the Wizards’ capabilities, see the material on General Powers of the Maïa Characters following section 5.12.)


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